Civil society org calls for S'wak govt to delay state elections in light of increasing Covid-19 cases

KUCHING: The Sarawak government should delay the next state elections until after the Covid-19 curve has flattened, says a state-based civil society organisation.

Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE) said it would be "highly irresponsible" to call the state polls between now and the end of the year in view of the current spike in Covid-19 cases nationwide.

"The ruling government still has until June 2021 to get a fresh mandate. It would be more prudent to make sure the curve flattens first before the mandate is sought by way of state elections," ROSE president Ann Teo said in a statement.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had indicated last Saturday (Oct 3) that the state elections could be held "any time from now".

He had told a Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) mini-convention in Sibu that the drum was on standby to be sounded for the polls.

PBB is a component party of the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition, along with Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

Teo said it was inevitable during elections that candidates would meet people face to face or in large groups, despite the Election Commission's calls for online campaigning.

"Unless politicians, campaigners and other stakeholders act responsibly and observe the wearing of face masks, social distancing and all other SOPs (standard operating procedures) in all their campaigning activities, we are afraid that the campaign period will trigger a spike in Covid-19 cases, like in Sabah," she said.

Teo added that voters would not feel it was safe to go out and cast their ballots, or return home to vote in the case of those living and working outside Sarawak, if the elections were called before the current wave of infection abates.

"This is borne out by the turnout in the recently-concluded Sabah state elections, where the percentage was less than what was anticipated by the Election Commission," she said.

"We therefore appeal to the Chief Minister of Sarawak to review priorities and put people first.

"The best mandate is one where more people can vote and indeed feel safe to go out or come back to vote."

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